Thursday, June 11, 2009
This shouldn’t surprise us, but somehow a movie about a subway hijacking ends with a car chase through New York City traffic. And it’s not even a good car chase. It’s action for the sake of action, which is always trouble. It would be one thing if all the possibilities of the subway scenario had been exhausted, but that situation – like most of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 leaves a lot to be desired.
Denzel Washington stars as Walter Garber, a subway train dispatcher with the requisite personal problems that always afflict middle-aged innocents in these movies. In his case, he’s under investigation for allegedly taking a bribe from a train contractor. He’s about to clock out for the day when a thug named Ryder (John Travolta) and his goons (Luis Guzman, Victor Gojcaj) hijack the Pelham 1 2 3 train, so named because it leaves the Pelham area of the Bronx at 1:23 p.m.
Walter and Ryder have lengthy conversations at times, with bland dialogue that’s not nearly as clever as it thinks it is. Walter’s life is made more difficult by an intrusive hostage negotiator (John Turturro) and the mayor (James Gandolfini), both of whom should’ve been written out of the script. Eventually Ryder requests that Walter bring him the $10 million he’s demanded from the city, which leads up to the aforementioned heinous car chase.
This is the fourth film Washington has made with director Tony Scott, and it’s easily the weakest of the bunch (Déjà Vu, Man on Fire and Crimson Tide are the others). It does have Scott’s trademark kinetic energy, but the story is unfocused and Travolta’s performance is horrible.
Now, Travolta has never been accused of being a great actor. And he probably never will be. But he usually doesn’t ruin movies with his mere presence. Some were terrible regardless (Battlefield Earth, Staying Alive), while others had issues that weren’t his fault (Be Cool, Basic).
This time he is to blame. The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 requires believability, and not once does Travolta appear as menacing, hateful or dangerous as he needs to be. All he does is scream “mother*%$*” about 15 times in between casually chatting and launching ridiculous threats. Watching it, one can’t help but think how much better it would’ve been if he and Washington switched roles.
There’s a good drama to be made from this story, and it’s already been made. The 1974 movie starred Walter Matthau as Garber and Robert Shaw as the main bad guy, and those who’ve seen the original never forget it. So if you want to see The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, go to the video store and rent it.
THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1 2 3 (2) Directed by Tony Scott• Starring Denzel Washington, John Travolta and James Gandolfini • Rated R • 106 min. • At Century Cinemas Del Monte, Northridge Cinemas and Maya Cinemas.